Best venue to catch a band on the way up
1254 Michigan, Detroit
Much like London’s Roxy, LA’s Anti-Club, and San Francisco’s Mabuhay Gardens (cq), Corktown’s Lager House has all the makings of a legendary rock dive. It relentlessly books local next-big-things — its calendar reads like any major-label wish list (the Paybacks, the Sights, Electric Six, the Detroit Cobras, etc.). Lager House also features smelly, van-touring up-and-comers from far off states that pass through almost nightly, making the Lager a one-stop plop for some of next year’s big-venue headliners. And like any classic rock ‘n’ roll venue, the Lager is gnarly — just two small rooms split by a bar and a wall, a skull-jarring PA, a minimal stage, and one-buck PBRs. Best of all, when the place is teeming with beer-sodden bodies, and the band is on, you can close your eyes and imagine it’s Live at Leeds — or at least the old Gold Dollar.
Best venue to catch a band on the way down
16350 Harper, Detroit
Where else in Detroit can you catch Leif Garrett, Faster Pussycat, Missing Persons, LA Guns, Foghat, Corey Feldman and the drummer from Blue Öyster Cult’s other band, all in an intimate club setting? Yeah, many of the aforementioned have certainly seen better days, but who’s to say that is a bad thing? If you are a staunch fan of music from days past, catching a band on its slide down the pop star chain can be a blast. Hell, the I-Rock is your chance to catch your 9th-grade faves up close and "personal," unobstructed by trend-trawling hipsters. What’s more, the drink prices won’t bleed your purse dry, the PA is first-rate and the bar personnel eschew attitude in favor of friendliness. In short, the I-Rock has a corner on nostalgia and D-town is a better place for it.
Best Bukowskian watering hole
439 E. Congress, Detroit
Christened after its elderly owner Steven Francis, Steve’s Place has the appearance of a 1940s Robert Mitchum film projected onto an old screen. It could be the last bar on the last block on the last day at last call. The long-in-the-tooth bar is a Bukowskian reverie, an overlooked jewel in downtown Detroit. The den is staid and sedate, as are its regulars — the day drinkers, the lifers and the occasional late-night hipsters. The spacious bar could be anywhere in East Hollywood, anywhere old Buk called home, but is, lucky for Detroiters, located between the Renaissance Center and Greektown. Steve’s Place remains unaffected by tourism, steroid-TV sports, and — aside from the glorious 1970s lunch pail collection behind the bar — the trappings of traditional pop culture. Steve’s is a place to sit and get tanked quietly, regardless of the occasional barstool storyteller, oddball, unruly lawyer or punk rocker that might amble in.
Best place to move and shake
Flood’s Bar & Grill
733 St. Antoine, Detroit
You can tell by the bottlenecked line of glimmering Jags, Beemers, Mercedes and SUVs lined up for valet parking that this is a nightspot where the Motor City’s elite come to meet. The food’s OK, but that ain’t the point; it’s the tailored clientele and top-shelf booze that really sets Flood’s apart. And when the band kicks on, the place really starts to thumpin’. Precaution: Don't wear jeans and flip-flops.
Best pool hall
Hilton Cue Family Billiards
2141 Hilton Road, Ferndale
The Hilton is eerily quiet, perhaps because it doesn’t sell alcohol, and the clientele is composed of discerning kids and middle-aged sharks. Although dark and smoky, the Cue retains its wholesome attitude thanks to the retro coin-op soda machines and jukebox. 16 tables make it a midsized billiards wonderland for those who don’t go to pool halls exclusively to pick up dudes and chicks.
Best dance club
415 E. Congress, Detroit
Part circus freak show, part Miami dance emporium, Space specializes in reckless abandonment and over-the-top packaging. With a staff of entertainers includeing a 60-year-old overweight dominatrix and an army of drag queens, the only thing Space takes seriously is having a good time. This makes it the hottest and the most-attended club for a year running, averaging between 1,500 and 2,000 people every Friday and Saturday. The clientele is also considerably less snooty than Detroit's "high-end" nightclubs which can't seem to stay in business. Be sure to check out the not-so-subtle fully dressed beds stationed on the third floor.
Best 40-ounce malt liquor selection
Stop One Party Store
3204 Carpenter, Hamtramck
For those times when beer won’t quite take you where you want to go, there’s that 40 ounces of blitzkrieg-in-a-bottle known as malt liquor. More head-spinning than your average brew, it’s surely your cheapest and quickest route to oblivion. A quick jaunt into Stop One Party Store in Hamtramck for a brown-bagged bottle of joy turns into a lengthy browse as the plentiful selection of colorful bottles with powerful names beg for your selection. King Kobra, Magnum, St. Ides, … the list goes on. With most of them being just $2 or less, it’s a simple pleasure that anyone can enjoy.
Best bar to get goosed
65 E. Huron, Pontiac
An attractive young woman can count on being grabbed, groped and propositioned on the dance floor at least a dozen times per hour. Small consolation for the hassle and humiliation: CC's is a great venue to catch some of today’s most happening acts in an intimate setting.
Best place to purchase a gyro and a lap dance in one sitting
432 E. Lafayette, Detroit
This legendary Detroit establishment might be the only place in the city where lamb meat, yogurt, martinis and nipples can be enjoyed simultaneously. Sure, you could drown some serious drachmas in drinks and G-strings, but where else can horny Detroiters partake in simulated ancient Greek debauchery? Once a belly-dancing mecca, Bouzouki maintains its hip-shaking lineup by constantly rotating a fine array of nubility. Dances run about $20 and regulars can avoid the bachelor-party raucousness in the elevated private dance cubbyholes.
Best noir atmosphere at a topless bar
19211 Van Dyke, Detroit
This hideaway strip-joint gem recalls the best settings in a David Goodis story; that part of town where you aren’t supposed to go, beauty where there shouldn’t be any —half frenzied flesh, half spirit of the impulsive woman. The Duchess’ brown- and-russet-hued interior centers around a small runway stage; customers are adorned with stoic expressions. With heady lap-dance gyrations in the darkness, cheap draft beer, the occasional torn stocking and smeared mascara, the Duchess — in all its underbelly glam — is a pulp novel brought to life.
Best intimate jazz venue
8047 Agnes, Detroit
This cozy east side spot offers fine dining in one room and top-quality modern-mainstream small-group jazz in the adjoining room. Regular performers include such Detroiters as guitarist A. Spencer Barefield and bassist Marion Hayden; visiting stellar artists such as Richard Davis also appear. The place is always jumping around the Ford Detroit International Jazz Festival weekend. A moderate cover charge is worth it for the sociable surroundings and superb sound. Located in an old pharmacy in East Indian Village, the setting is complemented by the fine food prepared by Chef Sherman Sharpe (check out the New York Times review on the wall).
Best jam session for singers
2727 Russell Street, Detroit
Lug your axe to Baker’s Keyboard on Wednesdays to have jam-session leader Teddy Harris Jr. tighten up your craft. Take that axe to Bomac’s Lounge on Thursdays to let it all hang out. But if you’re a singer, the place is to pipe is Bert’s Marketplace on Thursdays where a different vocalist plays host each month. "The Shadow of Your Smile," "All Blues," "Cherokee," you call the tune and the resident SBH Trio will swing ’em so you can sing ’em all night.
309 S. Center, Royal Oak
Not only is Gusoline Alley the last vestige of old Royal Oak, but it also has a satisfying beer selection and a jukebox that mixes bar favorites (Tom Waits, Exile on Main Street) with John Coltrane and the Buzzcocks. Patronage runs to aging punk rockers and postal workers during the week, and an eclectic mix of young turks and touristas on the weekends. Get there early on a Tuesday, slip a fin into the machine and reminisce.
Best juke joint
The Attic Bar
1167 Joseph Campau, Hamtramck
For every dozen embarrassing blues bars, there’s one Attic. The photos on the wall tell you who’s played there and the jukebox tells you the regular crowd takes the music seriously. The back area has a stage in the corner and a stripped-down juke-joint ambiance; it’s the perfect setting to soak up the kind of traditional blues music that’s played here most nights of the week.
Best Irish bar
The Gaelic League
2062 Michigan, Detroit
It’s not that their pint of Guinness is any better than the next bar's; it’s just that the Gaelic League is the Irish bar most frequented by Irish people. For doubters, this is where Gerry Adams has a sip when he’s in town. The walls are cluttered with history. There's traditional music regularly and Irish dancing lessons on the weekend. Drink with your grandparents.
Best bar for one too many
The Old Miami
3930 Cass, Detroit
The Old Miami can be many things: your living room, your hideaway, your Saturday night and your Sunday afternoon. You’ll find old sofas, a summer-perfect patio, a grill out back and cans of Miller Highlife that seem to just keep coming. Embrace and celebrate the seediness and listen to plenty of war stories, too — Vietnam, strikes or the first time the Misfits played Detroit.
Best parking (sexual)
Bell Isle, south side
East Jefferson at East Grand Boulevard, Detroit.
When you drive past the row of parked cars on Belle Isle’s southern side, the row of bouncing vehicles might initially appear as some kind of testing ground for shock absorbers. But (children, cover your ears) the southern tip of the Isle is actually the hottest spot for backseat romance in metro Detroit. As well it should be. The great view of the city’s skyline and reasonable privacy (though beware of the occasional passer-by and the extremely rare cop) make it the perfect parking spot for those who want reclaim the fervent sexual spontaneity of their youth. This is a year-round activity.
Best buzz kill
Don’t forget to wear that raincoat in the shower, slugger. Sometimes the stork can bring a pint-sized buzz kill.
Best tequila bar
4265 Woodward, Detroit
It’s hard to believe tequila has the same alcohol content as other hard liquors; it just seems to throw a heavier punch. Agave’s menu lists 51 brands, from a lowly $4 silver (clear and not aged) up through the $8 golden añejos, to a $25 shot of Rey Sol (Sun King). The gold varieties are aged in oak barrels — yep, like a single-malt scotch. If you’re not ready for that pure gasoline flavor, stick to margaritas. Agave shuns margarita mix, preferring instead to use fresh lime juice. All of this in a sleek environment where unusual, above-average Mexican food is on order as well.
Best blues joint
511 Monroe, Detroit
The Menu isn’t limited to blues, but it is about the only club within the city limits that features blues regularly. Music is on the menu seven nights a week at this Greektown establishment, and the club manages to attract the best bands and the hippest, most appreciative crowds in the city. It is place where the real blues players set up, bend strings and wail woefully. Jammers are on tap Tuesday nights for a chance to sit in with RJ’s Rhythm Rockers. Thornetta Davis tears the walls down every Wednesday night. The Brothers Groove are Thursday mainstays; the Detroit Blues Society meets and jams the first Sunday of the month and the public is welcome. The staff is great and so is the food.
Best blues joint where your feet don’t stick to the floor
George & Harry’s Blues Café
22048 Michigan Ave., Dearborn
It’s too damned pretty to be a blues bar. The food is far better than you’d have a right to expect; the sight lines are excellent; the art is tasteful, for God’s sake; and the only funkiness in the place comes from the stage. Still, when the lights go down and the band tunes up, it’s a great place to spend an evening.
Best jazz venue with a history
Baker's Keyboard Lounge
20510 Livernois, Detroit
Baker's Keyboard Lounge, operating since 1934, served for decades as the Detroit tour stop for the likes of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, Sonny Stitt, Milt Jackson and all the great modernists. In its present incarnation Baker's presents a lively mix of local artists and jam sessions, featuring regular sets by Teddy Harris' New Breed Bebop Society Orchestra. Juanita's Kitchen will feed your stomach as the notes nourish your soul: Check out the catfish dinner. No cover except on rare occasions, such as James Carter's all-star live recording sessions last year.
Best place to dance until dawn
17518 Woodward Ave., Detroit
In most clubs, 2 a.m. means irate drunks, blurry lights and bellowing bouncers. For those wishing to delay the drive home, Numbers is the place to go wild. The club caters to a predominately gay crowd, but heteros will feel right at home. Numbers is high-energy. Different DJs spin throughout the week and dancing lasts well into the early hours of the morning. Best of all, Numbers is a place to be uninhibited — free from the poseurs, the critics — and from yourself.
Best place to get loaded courtesy of the nearest frat boy
310 Maynard, Ann Arbor
Toxic Long Island ice teas and Dixie Cup Jagermeister shots make Ann Arbor’s Scorekeepers a notorious sports-themed meat market. Getting shnockered on a limited budget is a cinch with more Greek meat than the Parthenon flooding the vibrating dance floor. On any Saturday night, the guy-to-girl ratio is easily 5-to-1. Frat boys spend their parents’ dough in hopes to get some action with any number of naïve freshmen. If you’re low on cash, wear your DKNY, act coy and ask about his prized kegerator.
Best brew pub
Arbor Brewing Co.
116 E. Washington St., Ann Arbor
More than a beer-geek hangout, Arbor Brewing Co. typifies everything you hope to find in a pub: a nice selection of well-prepared food that transcends pub grub, good local music, and, oh yes, beer, most of it brewed on the premises. It varies season to season, but you can always find Red Snapper Special Bitter and Faircy-Fest Irish Stout, both outstanding examples of their class. You may even be lucky enough to get there when the mighty Terminator Doppelbock is on tap. Two of those and you’ll need a designated driver.
Best local brewery
Motor City Brewing Works
470 W. Canfield, Detroit
At Motor City Brewing Works, the beers are hand-made from traditional ingredients, and it shows. Comparing Motor City's beer to an industrial megabrew is like putting a loaf of crusty home-baked bread up against Wonder Bread — no contest. The tap menu varies; but you'll always find the signature Ghettoblaster ale. Down a pint, either in the taproom (decorated by Cass Corridor artists) or on the upper deck. In seasonable weather, the upper deck is Detroit’s best place for a cold one under the stars. Nuzzled in a charming residential area off the Cass Corridor, the MCBW makes for a wonderful night of booze-encouraged stargazing. Incidentally, the Motor City regularly features some kick-ass live music.
Best classic pub with marginal music
The Town Pump Tavern
100 W. Montcalm, Detroit
Nestled on a back alley, behind Hockeytown Café and Second City, lies a cozy little English-style pub with ivy-covered windows and classy wooden tables. It’s a beautiful place for a cold pint. Unfortunately, Grosse Pointe dregs pack the place on weekend nights, attracted most likely by the poor selection of rock blasting from the speakers, which mutes any possibility of conversation. We wish this was the place to go where everybody knows your name. Great place best enjoyed before the crowd shows up.
Best martini bar/Best romantic upscale bar
Half Past Three
2554 Grand River Ave., Detroit
Drinks aren’t cheap at Half Past Three, but you get what you pay for. For one thing, this place is gorgeous and has an atmosphere to make even a Manhattanite feel at home. In addition, the martinis and cocktails are fabulous. The bar has two rooms: the front room has blue lights and deep blue chairs; the back room has red walls, chairs and curtains. The front room’s graceful atmosphere is more for mingling, while couples and groups cozy down on couches and lounge chairs in the red room. Back there, live jazz and other acts often take place. And it has more than 100 clocks, all set to 3:30.
Best beer selection
Ye Olde Tap Room
14915 Charlevoix, Grosse Pointe Park
If selection is what you’re looking for, head to this dark little beer room on Charlevoix. It’s small, dark and offers more than 200 beers, including Belgian ales and other foamy delicacies.
Best venue to see a new neo-soul artist
431 E. Congress, Detroit
Once a new artist is on the verge of stardom, it’s only a matter of time before they wind up at St. Andrew’s. Many of the biggest stars of neo-soul have come through early in their career (including Erykah Badu, Jill Scott and Raphael Saadiq) (cq), which makes St. Andrew’s a kind of proving ground for young talent. If you want to say you saw ’em before they were on WJLB every 10 minutes, chances are you could do it here.
Best venue to see a new hip-hop artist
10241 Joseph Campau
Wednesdays at the Lush are the best night in town for up-and-coming hip-hop stars. The open-mic night, hosted by In the Mix Productions, is an ideal launching pad for MCs and DJs trying to gain a name in Detroit’s rough-and-tumble underground, and the crowd is always packed with luminaries of the local hip-hop scene (including Obie Trice, the Fat Killaz and Tha Almighty Dreadnautz). But when you hit the stage you better know what you’re getting into — the MC battles are fierce and the crowd can turn on you in a minute.
Best place to flex a new outfit
1314 Broadway, Detroit
While mom and dad sip scotch at Flood's Bar and Grill, Detroit's young jet-setters strut their stuff at Club Network. Every week, the city's hottest fly girls, homeboys and young professionals turn out in droves to see and be seen at Network's "Jeans and Moët" Thursday theme night. Champagne's the drink but fashionable singles are the draw — and don't dare show up in the same outfit twice. Network's so popular among Detroit's up-and-comers (or those who’ve already arrived) that driving by on weekend nights is a spectator sport for the patient — shiny SUVs and sports cars crowd Broadway like there ain't no traffic rules.
Best ethnic festival
African World Festival
Hart Plaza, downtown Detroit
The African World Festival happens to be one of Detroit’s most treasured summer fests. Each August, this ethnic celebration — sponsored by the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History — brings vendors and musicians from all over the world to Hart Plaza to celebrate the African diaspora. From African crafts and cuisine to culture and history, you’ll see it here. Headliners this year included Bilal, Frankie Paul and Hassan Hakmoun among others. This festival sounds the "black and proud" mantra yet embraces other ethnic groups. For a city that is predominately African-American, the African World Festival is "Detroit’s" festival.
Best place to hang with anarchists
4210 Trumbull, Detroit
The Trumbullplex is a housing cooperative, art space and generally a stomping ground for local political revolutionaries. The residents are warm and welcoming to those of all political/social/sexual persuasions and are eager to discuss their projects and philosophies. The Trumbullplex has a beautiful garden and the "Art Space" is a great place for music, movies, discussions, and a wide variety of other neo-revolutionary activities.
Best dollar-beer night
Woodward Avenue Brewers
22646 Woodward, Ferndale
The battle of the dollar night is a tough one. But when the Lager House’s somewhat shoddy jukebox (read: bad ’79 punk with bagpipes mixing with Canadian death metal) took them out of the running, the WAB was left standing alone as the best place to swill cheaply. Sunday nights the WAB offers dollar beers and well drinks, an almost too-clean chic suburban atmosphere and an inexhaustible selection of great music on the juke.
Best bar for conversation
4620 Cass, Detroit
Maybe it’s the understated brick edifice or the perfectly dim lighting — but somehow the restaurant/bar has constructed the perfect atmosphere for chit chat without the slightest hint of simulated trendiness. That the Cass Café is both an easy stroll from Wayne State and seated in the vibrant center of the Cass Corridor community attracts all kinds of notable and interesting locals.
Best bar despite its stench
624 Brush, Detroit
The German beers and spicy peanuts are mouth-watering; the potato pancakes, sausages and chicken sandwiches worth every penny. Jacoby’s is a good place to eat, drink, watch sports and hear bands, with one of the largest beer selections in town. It’s also home to a bustling lunch crowd and an atmosphere perfect for beverage consumption. The old German establishment would be one of the best places in the city if someone would hire a major cleaning company to scrub it down. As one of Detroit’s oldest still-operating establishments, with a classic wood, brass and mirrored bar, Jacoby’s has been open since 1904. When you go to the bathroom downstairs, you may catch a whiff just about that old.
Best conversational overkill
The White Stripes
"Do you know what Jack White’s favorite drink is?," a 15 year-old pimple-faced kid asks his friends. He is eager for them to shrug so he can offer the answer. "A chocolate milkshake." When these conversations happen, it’s time to start considering another topic.
Best drive-free date
22812 Woodward, Ferndale
22920 Woodward, Ferndale
22930 Woodward, Ferndale
Ferndale’s diverse trio of nightspots has a lock on the best no-driving date in Detroit. Start at Como’s with moderately priced Italian food and a warm atmosphere. After dinner, catch a rock show or movie at the Magic Bag and then check out the scenester-heavy night life at the Bosco. If you drive a beat-up car and you have a date with someone who is superficial enough to care about that, this is the block that could save your rep.
Best free downtown parking
Greektown Casino structure
Monroe and Beaubian, Detroit
For free Greektown parking there is no better place than the Greektown Casino parking structure. When it isn’t daytime business hours and your in a pinch, pull into the structure, go into the casino and stroll across the floor to customer service. Two minutes later, you’re validated and on your way. Maybe you can drop the $20 you saved at the craps table and start on your way to making your millions.
Best bar to embody the "Boy Howdy" spirit
2930 Jacob, Hamtramck
Lili’s 21 rock ’n’ roll bar is legendary; a clubhouse of sorts for both smart-asses and dumb-asses. And Lili (RIP), the bar’s namesake, would never have had it any other way. Sometimes the drinks arrive with cutting asides; the bartenders’ acerbic attitude matches perfectly the antiquated Creem magazine covers that plaster the bar cabinets. Ghoul trinkets and Xmas lights appear to make the dusky-lit bar dazzle and shine. Moreover, the stories circulating in and around the place are endless: Iggy Pop giving his phone number to Lili on a bar napkin, Dead Boy Cheetah Chrome bringing the house down, the Clash hangin’ out and getting zonked on "Polish rocket fuel" (cheap blackberry brandy), and on and on.
Best Bob Seger song not heard on Detroit radio
Yeah yeah, we’re sure you’re sick of hearing so many of those awful Seger tunes ("Old Time Rock & Roll," "Like A Rock" etc.) on classic rock radio that you almost forget there are several great ones. Hard-pressed to come up with one that Detroit radio doesn’t play, we give "Rosalie" the nod. On the out-of-print, never-issued-on-CD Back In ’72 album, "Rosalie" — with its rocking, chugging Stones chords, killer harmonies and catchy chorus — can’t be denied by any lover of great Detroit rock ’n’ roll. Even the deceased Phil Lynott knew how cool this song was as evidenced by Thin Lizzy’s great cover version. Left of the dial? Natch!
Best video store for adult video rentals on a budget
4910 Nine Mile Road, Warren
Don’t let the name fool you. Ironically, Family Video in Warren is a great spot to stock up on those porno rentals without emptying your wallet. On the surface the place looks and smells like a cookie-cutter megachain store — high on the gloss but low in underground grit. But a trip to the back-room adult area will leave you wide-eyed with the blood high as you lose yourself in the porn o’ plenty. And at only $3 for two videos for two nights, how can you beat that?
Best shabbily sexy date bar
1033 Conant, Hamtramck
This lovely old-man bar-turned-sexy lounge is the ideal place to meet up and get the night rolling. With its stellar jukebox blasting everything from Kiss and Funkadelic to Sonny Boy Willamson and the Undertones, and a mammoth beer selection, you’re sure to get your buzz started off right. The mixed drinks are dead-on and the booths are dark and cozy; you’ll find yourself whispering even when you don’t have to. The candlelight vibe helps to make anyone seem at least tolerable, and managing a trip to the one-seater john without someone opening the door on you is always a challenge.
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